- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 14, 2002

The major event of the fall movie season in Washington may be the opening of a new multiplex in Georgetown rather than the arrival of any particular title.
After all, most major studio releases now play simultaneously at so many locations that they exhaust their earning potential in less than a month. It's been a few years since Georgetown has welcomed a theater opening, let alone a 14-auditorium site that promises to be scenically imposing, since it borrows remnants of the old Georgetown Incinerator at 31st and K Streets NW.
There have been plenty of closings in recent years: the Georgetown, the Cerberus, the Biograph, the Key, the Fine Arts, the Foundry, the Janus. Even the MacArthur, if you want to stretch the boundaries of the District slightly to underline the decline. Anyway, the official reversal begins sometime in November, presumably in time to participate in the next Harry Potter surge on Friday the 15th. The new place will be called simply Loews Georgetown. An underground garage will be part of the edifice, which should facilitate picturesque snarls between K and M streets Northwest on many weekend evenings.
But seriously, the city is long overdue for a fresh start on first-run movie houses. Even its hold on specialized and classic exhibition will be weakened in the spring of 2003 when the American Film Institute Theater moves to the near suburbs and begins expanded programming activities in Silver Spring. Once auspicious downtown multiplex projects seem to be stalled, but with perseverance and good will they may reach fruition in time to provide diversion to tourists and residents before the end of the decade.
Last year at this time the terrorist attacks caused the postponement of several early fall releases (two of them, "Big Trouble" and "Collateral Damage," remained in limbo until the new year) and obliged the movie industry in general to adopt at least a fleeting mood of gravity. Things have pretty much returned to normal, regrettably from the aesthetic standpoint, since Hollywood has grown unaccustomed to appeasing any constituences except incorrigible thrill-seekers and chuckleheads. From the economic standpoint, the continuing loyalty of the film public is a beneficial attachment. It has helped stabilize one sector of the economy while others were reeling.
However, there was never much doubt about the formula for a box-office rebound last fall: the most promising crowd pleasers on paper "Monsters, Inc.," "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" and "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" needed to perform well. They delivered, giving the holiday season a sturdy foundation and fueling another uptick in annual gross receipts. Coming off a summer season that should set the stage for yet another uptick, the business can derive confidence from the ongoing nearness of the "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings" franchises. Their first sequels, "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" and "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," will again anchor Thanksgiving and Christmas, respectively. In addition, two vintage franchises will be back with new installments: the James Bond apparatus with "Die Another Day," a 40th anniversary spectacle that joins "Harry Potter" at Thanksgiving; and the "Star Trek" crew with "Nemesis," which will try to profit from a five-day head start on "Two Towers" during the Christmas season.
Perusing the catalog of old and new reliables, one finds "Red Dragon" as the first test case of the season. Opening on Oct. 4, it returns to the original installment of the Hannibal Lecter saga. Thomas Harris' novel, in which Lecter was a minor character, was adapted by Michael Mann in 1986 and retitled "Manhunter," evidently because producer Dino De Laurentis had recently flopped with Michael Cimino's unrelated "The Year of the Dragon." Brian Cox was cast as the original Lecter.
Anthony Hopkins' eminence in the role has now justified this remake, which will presumably expand his part while inserting Edward Norton, an auspicious choice, as the FBI profiler who has been responsible for Lecter's capture. Ralph Fiennes and Philip Seymour Hoffman play the serial killers who remain at large during the course of the story.
Brett Ratner is the somewhat surprising choice as director, since he was coming off "Rush Hour 2." Nevertheless, I was cheered by his comments in Premiere magazine, particularly when recoiling at the outrageous gore dished up in "Hannibal": "How much more can we see? Am I going to [show] testicles being fried in a pan?" That would be superfluous. Mr. Hopkins also promises no more "cutesy" Hannibal Lecter.
Some performers are, of course, franchises. The most winning, Jackie Chan, returns in a farcical thriller titled "The Tuxedo," which ascribes his physical prowess to a trick garment. He will be paired romantically with Jennifer Love Hewitt, who should feel flattered. Jennifer Lopez and Ralph Fiennes are also a romantic comedy team this season, in "Maid in Manhattan." They probably didn't spring to mind quite as promptly as Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant, who will co-star in "Two Weeks Notice."
Did Robert De Niro and Billy Crystal become a comedy franchise in "Analyze This"? They'll be back as the mobster and his shrink in "Analyze That," again under the direction of Harold Ramis. A second Jackie Chan vehicle, "Shanghai Knights," was recently postponed for a season. The sequel to "Shanghai Noon," it reunites Mr. Chan and Owen Wilson. Despite this delay, Mr. Wilson will be a sidekick during the holidays: for Eddie Murphy in a belated update of the old Bill Cosby-Robert Culp espionage series "I Spy."
The division of labor is a bit different: Mr. Wilson will play the crack agent and Mr. Murphy a recently recruited prizefighter. And presumably the emphasis will be on adventure farce. At least two other TV crossovers are in the wings: a feature-length version of the animated series "The Wild Thornberrys" and a replica of Johnny Knoxville's anything-goes novelty, "Jackass."
The big one that sat it out last fall, "Gangs of New York," Martin Scorsese's epic about the crime-infested Manhattan of the 1860s, when the police and fire departments had notorious reputations, will surface on Christmas Day, with Daniel Day-Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz in the principal unsavory roles. There will also be a modern Leonardo in circulation: Mr. DiCaprio plays a compulsive impostor pursued by FBI agent Tom Hanks in a Steven Spielberg suspense comedy and character study titled "Catch Me If You Can." In addition to collecting some revenue for the costly "Gangs" at long last, Miramax will launch the belated movie version of Bob Fosse's "Chicago" on Christmas Day, with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger as the mercenary flappers, Velma and Roxie, and Richard Gere as their simple barefoot mouthpiece, Billy Flynn.
"Chicago" is the conspicuous musical of the season. The inconspicuous one is a documentary homage, "Standing in the Shadows of Motown," which recalls the indispensable back-up musicians employed by the record company, the Funk Brothers. There's also a mystery musical from Europe: the French import, "8 Women," the latest movie directed by Francois Ozon, who did the remarkable "Under the Sand" with Charlotte Rampling. His new film sounds structurally similar to "Gosford Park." Eight formidable actresses have been recruited to play murder suspects gathered at a country estate. The group includes Catherine Deneuve, Emmanuelle Beart, Isabelle Huppert, Virginie Ledoyen, Danielle Darrieux and Fanny Ardant. Evidently, musical numbers will help set the stage for a solution.
Lest anyone fear that novelty will be a threat to the medium, at least a dozen remakes and half a dozen sequels are on the calendar. Of course, some of the sequels, notably "Two Towers," promise to be impressive. A few of the remakes purport to be special cases, notably "Red Dragon" and "Chicago." The collaborators on the latter certainly don't envision it as a new version of the wonderful Ginger Rogers comedy "Roxie Hart," despite the undeniable pedigree.
Jonathan Demme may have some explaining to do if "The Truth About Charlie," a revamp of Stanley Donen's "Charade," proves a fiasco. Thandie Newton inherits the original Audrey Hepburn role, but Mark Wahlberg has been asked to replace Cary Grant, a potential sore point. Tim Robbins gets the Walter Matthau assignment. Mr. Demme says he hopes to evoke Paris of French new wave movies in the early 1960s rather than Mr. Donen's glamorous and sometimes ominous Paris of 1963. We'll see.
Roberto Benigni will return as a slapstick "Pinocchio." Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney have collaborated on a new version of the science-fiction allegory "Solaris," originally directed by the late Andrei Tarkovsky. A Japanese suspense thriller about a lethal videotape, "Ringu," has been Americanized as "The Ring," with Brian Cox and the breathtaking discovery from David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive," Naomi Watts. Lina Wertmuller's once fashionable "Swept Away," a revamp of the castaway fable "The Admirable Crichton," has been revamped again by the British director Guy Ritchie. He casts his misses, Madonna, opposite Adriano Giannini, the son of Giancarlo Giannini, the leading man of the 1975 "Swept Away." The age difference between the co-stars qualifies the 2002 edition as another tadpole romance.
There will be double doses of Adam Sandler: in the flesh in a Paul Thomas Anderson comedy titled "Punch-Drunk Love" and animated in a caprice titled "Adam Sandler's Crazy Nights." The leading lady of "Punch-Drunk," Emily Watson, also has a role in "Red Dragon" as the blind woman courted and then terrified by Ralph Fiennes. On the right side of the law in "Red Dragon," Edward Norton will play a convicted drug dealer on the eve of a lengthy prison sentence in Spike Lee's "The 25th Hour."
The fall season is, of course, Academy Award build-up season as well. One can anticipate hard sells for "Gangs of New York," "Chicago" and "Two Towers." Jack Nicholson, who should have been in contention last year for "The Pledge," may have an irresistible claim this year with "About Schmidt," a movie version of the Louis Begley novel about the cross-country odyssey of a recently retired and widowed lawyer. Alexander Payne of "Election" is the director. The affinities with Art Carney's Oscar-winning role in Paul Mazursky's "Harry & Tonto" may be an intangible benefit.
The MTV favorite in the best actor category will certainly be Eminem, playing a facsimile of himself in Curtis Hanson's "8 Mile," which depicts an outcast white guy from Detroit acquiring fame as a rapper. Oscar-winner Denzel Washington directs himself in a small-scale drama about a psychiatrist with a volatile young patient, "Antwone Fisher." Halle Berry seems unlikely to repeat her Academy Award-winning performance while playing opposite Pierce Brosnan's James Bond in "Die Another Day," but she gets to revive Ursula Andress' wardrobe from "Dr. No."
Director Brad Silberberg draws on his own life for "Moonlight Mile," which recalls the period in which he become inseparable from the parents of a murdered fiancee, the young actress Rebecca Schaeffer. Dustin Hoffman and Susan Sarandon are cast as the parents and Jake Gyllenhaal as a fictionalized version of the filmmaker.
Is Christopher Plummer overdue for an Oscar? A plum opportunity could knock in Douglas McGrath's adaptation of Charles Dickens' prodigious "Nicholas Nickleby," since Mr. Plummer will be playing the nefarious Ralph Nickleby, unloving uncle to the hero and heroine. The supporting cast includes Nathan Lane, Alan Cumming, Anne Hathaway of "The Princess Diaries" and last year's Oscar winner as best supporting actor, Jim Broadbent.
The "Being John Malkovich" team of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze will be reunited for a mock-autobiographical farce titled "Adaptation," which might be more accurately called "Being Charlie Kaufman." Nicolas Cage is cast as a semblance of the screenwriter himself. Then he gets to double up as Mr. Kaufman's nonexistent, pesky twin. Meryl Streep joins the confusion as a fictionalized version of writer Susan Orlean, whose book "The Orchid Thief" is supposedly being adapted while Mr. Cage goes bonkers.
Miss Streep returns as part of the impressive cast of "The Hours," an adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize novel that invokes Virginia Woolf in body and spirit. Nicole Kidman impersonates Mrs. Woolf, circa 1923. Julianne Moore and Claire Danes join Miss Streep in the episodes set in later generations. The biographical subjects during the season will also include Cate Blanchett as a daring Irish crime reporter in "Veronica Guerin," directed by Joel Schumacher; Selma Hayek as artist Frida Kahlo in "Frida," directed by Julie Taymor; Greg Kinnear as TV actor and furtive sex addict Bob Crane in "Auto Focus," directed by Paul Schrader; Adrien Brody as the Polish concert musician and Holocaust survivor Wladyslaw Szpilman in "The Pianist," directed by Roman Polanski; and Leonardo DiCaprio in "Catch Me If You Can," which derives from the memoirs of an authentic reformed impostor, Frank Abagnale.
Another dubious TV name, Chuck Barris, is the subject of "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind." He claims to have been a CIA assassin while also producing such immortal game shows as "The Dating Game" and "The Gong Show." This biopic may not come our way until January, but Sam Rockwell plays Mr. Barris and George Clooney makes his directing debut.
Families should be able to trust such attractions as "Spirited Away," "Jonah A Veggie Tales Movie," "Tuck Everlasting," "Pokemon 4Ever," "The Santa Clause 2," "Treasure Planet," "The Wild Thornberrys," "Pinocchio" and "Harry Potter." There will be Imax revivals of "The Lion King" and "Apollo 13" in places equipped for the task. At the moment only "Apollo 13" will play in Washington at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.
Joel Schumacher will be represented by a second feature, "Phone Booth," a suspense thriller that sounds technically intriguing, rather like a stationary variant on "Speed." Colin Farrell is cast as a bystander who answers the persistent ring in a phone booth and finds himself in the sights of a sniper played by Ron Eldard. The concept is contrived to limit Mr. Farrell's mobility, but it allows some for the menace and a resourceful cop played by Forrest Whitaker. It may also rival "Gangs of New York" for shelf time: both movies were once envisioned as fall 2001 releases.
Perhaps surpassing "Gangs" as the most ambitious historical project is "Gods and Generals," also set in the 1860s, of course, since it chronicles the Civil War battlefield from Manassas to Fredericksburg. The prequel to "Gettysburg," it was also adapted and directed from the historical novels of Michael Shaara by Ronald Maxwell, who welcomes back Jeff Daniels as Lt. Col. Joshua Chamberlain and casts Robert Duvall as Gen. Robert E. Lee and Stephen Lang as Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. At 330 minutes, the film will obviously pose problems for conventional exhibition. It does not have a firm local engagement. Nevertheless, it's unthinkable that it will fail to turn up as a special case under some management.

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